A Two Level Game In Afghanistan

News of the NZSAS’s imminent departure to Afghanistan, on its fourth deployment since 2001 but first since 2005, has occasioned a fair bit of commentary in the media. A Herald poll shows public opinion evenly divided on the issue. A broad swathe of Right and Left wing isolationists and pacifists oppose the move. Many believe it is just a sop thrown to US imperialism in order to curry favour. Others think it is about gas pipelines and Halliburton profits. The rationale for sending troops to Afghanistan has become muddled by American pronouncements that NZ should do so as a type of insurance in the event it is attacked, or as a down payment on an eventual bilateral FTA. John Key has not helped matters by stating that he does not want the SAS to undertake so-called “mentoring” roles for the Afghan Army because it is too dangerous (as if what they otherwise would be doing is not), and that he would like to withdraw the NZDF Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in Bamiyan province because it costs too much to maintain (this in spite of its widely recognised success as a “hearts and minds” operation that is the essence of international peace-keeping and nation-building missions such as the ISAF mission in Afghanistan).  He further clouds the issue by invoking the Jakarta and Mumbai bombings as reasons for the NZSAS deployment, even if the bombings had zero connection to events on the ground in Afghanistan (although I admit the possibility that some of those involved in the bombings may have attended Taleban protected al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan or the Pakistani tribal regions in the last decade or so). In making these utterances Mr. Key displays an apparent lack of understanding of what is really at stake in this dangerous game.

I have already posted here on the subject (see the Archive, especially here and here), and in recent days have tried to explicate further in the dedicated comments threads in places like Tumeke and Kiwiblog. Yet the rationale for why I believe that sending the NZSAS to and keeping the PRT in Afghanistan is justified appears to be lost in the general discussion. So let me phrase things in a different way, for purposes of clarification: what is going on in Afghanistan is a two-level game.

One one level there is the original ISAF mission. That mission was and is to deny al-Qaeda cadres and militant Taleban safe havens inside Afghanistan so that they do not pose a threat to the local population and cannot use Afghan territory to stage cross-border assaults on Pakistan and other neighbouring Central Asian republics. The concern with the militant Taleban, as opposed to their more “moderate” counterparts (read: nationalist or tribal), is that they have greater ambitions than re-gaining political control of Afghanistan. Instead, the militant Taleban and their al-Qaeda allies seeks to establish a Caliphate throughout Central Asia and beyond. They particularly want to gain control of nuclear-armed Pakistan, but even that is just a short-to-medium term goal. They have, in other words, imperialist ambitions of their own. These ambitions are not only opposed by the US, UN, and NATO. They are opposed by China, Russia, India and all Asian states that see the ripple effect extending towards them. In fact, they are opposed by virtually all of the international community with the exception of failed states such as Somailia and the Sudan (which have now become the new locus of al-Qaeda activity).

Worried about the repercussive effects that a Taleban victory in Afghanistan would have throughout Central Asia, the NATO-led, UN sanctioned ISAF mission has been successful at eliminating al-Qaeda as a military threat in the country, and is essentially now engaged in a grand scale pincer movement along with the Pakistani military that is designed to push Taleban on both sides of the common border into geographically defined kill zones from which they cannot escape. In parallel, ISAF and UN-led civilian assistance groups are attempting to engage moderate Taleban elements in order to establish a durable cease-fire that will permit the second level of the game to be played.

The second level game is oriented towards establishing a moderate Islamic regime with centralised authority over Afghanistan, one that will balance secular rights with religious freedoms and traditional privileges in accordance with the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. This a minimalist construction of the game; that is, it pretends to go no further than what is stated. It does not imply that the objective is to establish a secular democracy in the country. It does not pretend that centralised authority will mean central government monopoly of organised violence in the tribal hinterlands. It does not propose the blanket elimination of traditional forms of authority or social mores. Instead, it merely seeks to create the structural and political conditions for the establishment of peace, a peace that in turn will deny Islamic extremists the fertile territory for recruitment and sanctuary. It involves promoting electoral forms of political contestation, but more importantly, it pursues infrastructural development, to include educational, health and nutritional programs as well as the civil-military engineering projects required for their implementation and expansion.

To be sure, endemic corruption, the Karzai regime’s limited legitimacy outside of Kabul, the persistence of the opium trade, the ongoing presence of warlord-dominated fiefdoms, and the abject primitivism of many parts of the country make the second game seemingly impossible to achieve, and greatly complicate the achievement of the first game. Yet just because other foreign incursions have been defeated does not necessarily mean that this one is inevitably doomed to fail. For one thing, this is an international effort, not the expansionist project of a single imperial state. For another, because of its developmental and humanitarian focus, it does have a fair bit of internal support as well as that of neighbouring countries, factors that did not obtain in previous instances of occupation.

These two games are now being played out simultaneously, in overlapped fashion. The first is needed for the second to be successful (i.e., the combat work of such as the NZSAS is needed for PRTs to be successful). Yet the second is needed for the first to advance sufficiently so that an “exit strategy” is feasible. That will take a long time, at a minimum at least another five years and probably more. Any upgrade or renewal of the NZDF commitment to Afghanistan must take account of this fact.

Thus, when considering the “why” of NZ’s deployment of troops to Afghanistan, the debate should focus on the two levels of the ISAF “game,” and whether NZ has a stake in either. I have already stated that I believe that there are moral and practical reasons why NZ should, as an international citizen, contribute to the ISAF mission on both levels. Others disagree on either or both counts.  The main point, however, is that Mr. Key and his advisors in the MoD and MFAT develop a clear and comprehensible rationale for why NZ should put its soldiers at risk in Afghanistan, which in turn is as much a function of informed public interest as it is of diplomatic necessity.

46 thoughts on “A Two Level Game In Afghanistan

  1. The part that I struggle with is the do-ability. It seems to me that the worst option is to try and achieve these goals without the necessary commitment of money and manpower.

    The main point, however, is that Mr. Key and his advisors in the MoD and MFAT develop a clear and comprehensible rationale for why NZ should put its soldiers at risk in Afghanistan, which in turn is as much a function of informed public interest as it is of diplomatic necessity.

    This I agree with completely, and some of the commentary I’ve seen has been, err, unhelpful.

    One argument that I saw pop up a few times in different places is that
    ‘the SAS signed up, therefore they are keen to do this sort of thing, therefore we should let them go’.

    Which to me gets our responsibility as citizens almost entirely backwards.

    Hilzoy at the blog Obsidian Wings wrote a bit about what ‘supporting the troops’ means in terms of citizenship.

    She wrote about how remarkable it is that in modern western societies, we have developed volunteer military services that willingly submit to civilian control. Sometimes it is easy to not remember that, but it really is quite astounding that so many people, for whatever reasons are prepared to swear an oath to follow orders from civilian politicians that they are duty bound to follow, whether or not they agree with them.

    This, I think, puts a direct duty on us as citizens, to understand why our politicians are issuing those orders on our behalf.
    Just as we rely on the military in what they do, they rely on us to hold the politicians to account as to how they use that trust the military has placed in them.

    Saying ‘they want to do this stuff, so we should let them’, ignores the very salient fact that the military follow orders. They go where they are sent, whether they want to or not.

    I agree that the government should be talking more about this, in different ways than they have been doing so far.

  2. Good points PB.

    The “do-ability” issue is the biggest problem, simply because the NZDF is already stretched thin with its current deployments abroad and lack of funding and lift capacity. However, the NZSAS will be logistically supported by coalition (ISAF) partners, so the delivery and materiel costs will be reduced significantly (something that undoubtably is part of the negotiations on the terms of their deployment). The PRT is the costly venture (if measured in monetary terms). The NZSAS costs will be measured in lives.

    Having said that, special operators like the NZSAS need to regularly rotate into hostile live fire environments in order to hone their skills (because anything “safer” does not fully capture the necessities of the experience), and accordingly accept the risks involved, I am not sure if “keen to do” is the proper way of characterising their approach (not your characterisation, but that of others). The NZSAS are professionals skilled in the application of irregular violence upon agreed-upon armed adversaries, pure and simple, and they do so at the bidding of their political masters. That is why, as you, I and Hilzoy all agree, the civilian political elite who make the decisions to send troops into harm’s way must be held accountable by the electorate at large. That assumes an informed public conversant with the issues at play, which in turn allows broad debate on the pros and cons of any deployment.

    Alas, in NZ none of this occurs, not only because of an elite disposition towards secrecy and top-down decision-making, but in large measure because the mass public are nihilistically preoccupied with the vagaries of their own existence rather than critically thinking about the larger picture. This opinion may itself sound elitist, but arises from my conviction that a democracy in which elites make foreign policy without informing the public of the issues involved and without critical debate on those issues is a shallow democracy indeed.

  3. Yeah. I just hope (and it’s an ironic sort of ‘hope’) that Key’s comments you discuss in the post mean that he himself is just engaging in that sort of top down elitism, rather than suffering from the nihilistic preoccupation.

    When they are not telling us about what we know are the real issues, we have to decide between ‘them thinking we don’t care’, or ‘them not really caring themselves’.

    One other question while I remember:

    Do the anti-torture treaties, which I understand make Obama legally obliged to investigate the Bush admin’s policies, have any bearing on our decision?

    Is it something NZ could, or should, bring up during these discussions?

  4. Two thoughts;

    I think a lot of the gloss in NZ’s foreign policy, which has precluded it being widely discussed by the public has come from the imperative that foreign policy, and especially military policy, be broadly bipartisan. Foreign policy issues simply aren’t the focus of wider non-elite discussion in NZ that they are in many other comparable states because there exists such a strong consensus at the elite level. Nuclear free is simply off the table. Governments of both stripes have actively sought free trade agreements. The closest we’ve had to disputes was Helen Clark’s ‘benign strategic environment’ statement (with which I broadly agree, although things have changed in the Pacific since she said it).

    Second thought – the current objections to the SAS being deployed in a training role have me puzzled. Assuming people accept that ISAF shouldn’t just immediately withdraw from Afghanistan, leaving a fledgling Afghan army to fend for itself and that someone has to train them; and accepting that the NZ SAS are among the best-trained irregulars in the world, and operate strictly according to the highest standards international law and good military doctrine with strong oversight from a government very much concerned with maintaining its standing as a good international citizen; isn’t this exactly the sort of work to which they should be put?

    (Disclosure: my sister’s boyfriend, though not with the NZDF, was recently injured in an ambush in Afghanistan, and evacuated out of theatre. So I do sort of have a dog in that fight.)


  5. Lew:

    I agree with both of your points, particularly the part about the NZSAS standards when coming to the application of ROE and Law of War. That also answers PBs question about anti-torture treaties, since it is public knowledge that the NZSAS had issues during its previous deployments with handing over prisoners to US forces knowing that they might be subject to “enhanced interrogations.” Thus any new NZSAS deployment would include ROEs and mission definition statements that would include lawful treatment of non-combatants, adversaries and prisoners in accord with international conventions. Part of the NZSAS reputation is its absolute professionalism, and in that measure they could bring some sanity to the fight.

    However, also remember that the NZSAS troops headed to Afghanistan are going to be part of the long-range recon and infiltration company (about +/-75 out of a total of +/- 150), so they do not have the capability to hold prisoners. or, I might add, is their forte in training other nation’s personnel. Their strength is in their (irregular) combat skills, so that is where they are best suited. If Mr. Key is going to resist their use in a “mentoring” capacity it should be on these grounds, not on grounds of increased risk. It also means that short of targeting selected individuals in leadership positions, the NZSAS will preferably not be put into the position of capturing hostile combatants.

    My opinion is that they should be allowed to do what they do best along the lines I have mentioned above and in the related posts, and at best work with US and UK SpecOps personnel in a secondary training capacity but without having to work with Afghan national army troops in the field (because that could compromise their operations).

    As far as the elite consensus on foreign policy is concerned–that is both a plus and a minus.

  6. So long as John Key is Prime Minister you can forget “informed public interest”.

    That aside, isn’t the Afghanistan situation just a part of the perpetual war required to maintain the US/Global economy? When will we know we have “won” and who, really, are the winners?

    Admittedly, I haven’t read much material in favour of the Afghanistan “intervention” but, from what little I have seen, we are looking at at least 20 years of killing people. One suggestion I did see which, as much as it makes me sick to repeat, does seem to have an economic and humanitarian perspective in so much as it will get rid of the “terrorists” immediately, ultimately save more lives, and be a warning to others – why not just nuke the Afghanistan/Pakistan border? Kill everything there now and any living creature that goes near the area for the next 20 years? Problem solved.

    Simplistic and, yeah, okay, I’m shit stirring a little, but your argument seems to be little more than a slow motion alternative to such a hideous solution.

  7. BliP: I shall accept that you are stirring but you must accept in turn that what is going on is not just about perpetual war and corporate profits. There are people from many countries, both civilian and military, trying to put in place the conditions where, for example, a little girl can go to school and dream of being a political scientist (allah forbid!) without fear of being mutilated or killed. Sure, there are gung-ho idiot Marines and Blackwater contractors hell bent on killing, but then again the Taliban have not shown much restraint or respect when pursuing their combat objectives or dealing with enemies. I refer you to the linked posts where I outline why progressives should, in fact, have a dog in this fight.

  8. Pablo

    Thank you for extending the courtesy of allowing me to shit stir. As much as I would like, I am unable to reciprocate and accept that the occupation of Afghanistan is anything other

    than a further development in a perpetual war driven by corporate greed. I have, as requested, carried out the recommended reading and find that the picture of the little Afghan girl off to school is a chimera; the truth is that the wee lass is, in fact, running down a road, naked and screaming in agony as smoke from the 21st Century equivalent of a napalm bomb billows skyward from the burning ruins of her village in the background.

    You say:

    One one level the is the original ISAF mission. ( . . . this first sentence doesn’t make sense but I think I know what you mean . . . ) That mission was and is to deny al-Qaeda cadres and militant Taleban safe havens inside Afghanistan so that they do not pose a threat to the local population and cannot use Afghan territory to stage cross-border
    assaults on Pakistan and other neighbouring Central Asian republics.

    Wrong. Indulge me:

    The original ISAF was a hastily cobbled-together collection of ill-prepared soldiers supplied by corporate-driven imperial states and designed to lend legitimacy to a month of pre-emptive US carpet bombing of Afghanistan. The bombers were set loose with out-of-date Soviet map-coordinates by George Bush to show the US people that he was doing something about 9/11 by forcing Afghanistan to hand over Osama bin Laden. As it turns out, Bush could have had his man but chose not to. The Taliban offered to arrest bin Laden provided evidence was presented as to bin Laden’s guilt or, alternatively, to hand him to another Islamic state for trial. Bush refused. The point I’m making is that at first there was no mention whatsoever of removing the Taliban Govermnent.

    I’m not saying the Taliban Government was doing a good job. Its officials were involved in gross human rights abuses and. immediately prior to the bombing of Afghanistan, the UN was heavily involved in a major operation to supply food to a millions of starving Afghans. The UN supplies were becoming increasing essential as the Taliban was killing locals and arresting staff from US-Aid organisations because, in this highly-Islamic state, they were caught out using the supply of food as a means to preach Christianity. On 16 September 2001 George Bush demanded that Pakistan cease food convoys into Afghanistan. On 18 September 2001 Ruud Lubbers, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, told Bush that 3.8 million Afghans were completely dependent on outside aid, had only 2 weeks of stocks available, and that any attack would result in huge numbers of unnecessary civilian deaths. On 7 October 2001, after the food stocks had run out, the first US bombing began. And along for the ride was the UK. Two
    weeks after the bombing commenced, the number of Afghans facing starvation was over 7 million.

    I know you don’t need a history lesson but – please, just one more date – 16 October 2001 – The United Nations World Food Day – theme for the day: Fight Hunger To Reduce Poverty – US AC-130 planes drop 1,000 pound bombs on International Red Cross supply warehouses.

    By this time, Colin Powell was doing his magic show at the UN and formulating the premise for the creation of the “ NATO-led, UN sanctioned ISAF” which has now become the “the US-Controlled, NATO-led, UN sanctioned ISAF”. It was originally intended that it
    would be a force of just 5,000 personel, based only in Kabul and for the sole purpose of permitting the formation of the Afghan Transitional Administration. A significant difference from the mission you outlined at the start of your post, don’t you think?

    Now, eight years later, that original mandate has somehow evolved into an army of nearly 100,000 troops, plus an unlimited number of “advisers” – read corporate employees – to operate unilaterally across the whole country.

    You go on to say:

    The second level game is oriented towards establishing a moderate Islamic regime with centralised authority over Afghanistan, one that will balance secular rights with religious freedoms and traditional privileges in accordance with the Universal Declaration on Human Rights.

    Well, ISAF has been there eight years now and what’s changed?

    * In the three years to 2008, Afghanistan has dropped 59 places on the Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index to sit at 176 on the list of 180 countries.

    * In 2000, Afghanistan was estimated to be producing 75% of the world’s supply of opium. In July that year, the Taliban issued a decree banning the cultivation of opium and, six months later, the land use for opium poppies had dropped from 12,000 acres to 17 acres. In the eight years since IFSA, Afghanistan now <a href=http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2009/06/30/2612725.htm supplies 95% of global production.

    * Mohammed Halim Fidai is the Governor of the hugely strategic Afghanistan province of Wardak. He estimates that Wardak will need $US234,662,334 <a href= http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/0,1518,614555,00.html (yes, to the very dollar) for roads, damns, agriculture, hospitals and police (never minds schools). Turkey is
    the country within the ISAF responsible for Wardak and it has spent $US20 million over the last three years and USAID has spent $88 million over the last seven years.

    * The first free elections in decades are looming but even the Afghans are aware of what the US thinks about democractic results it doesn’t approve of.

    * In the meantime, and while Wardak waits for its hospitals, US corporations are lining up to commence their feast. There’s the usual line up of private armies, good ole RAND is in there, and then there’s Fluor Corporation , and where the US goes so does Coca-Cola, the locals make good slave labour but the cream of the infrastructure is going to companies like Baker, and what modern country these
    days can be without its own bottled water brand, in fact the list just goes on and on and on and . . . No doubt there is an equivalent number of UK and European corporations at the feast.

    * . . . and if you believe New Zealand has a moral obligation to join in, then you must also defend the morality of torture, complete with no end date and no exit strategy.

    That’s a FAIL.

    To quote the Spiegel journalist linked above: “For local residents, the foreigners’ efforts seem like pointless gestures, accompanied by the terrible drone of bombers overhead. The helplessness of the occupiers is having an effect on the population. The slogans of NATO’s enemies are finding a receptive audience. It is easy to suggest to villagers, most of whom are illiterate, that all these foreigners have no business being in their country. Because so few people have benefited from the dawning of the new era, and many are worse off than they were before, they are easily lulled into believing that life under the Taliban, who provided peace, discipline and order, was maybe not so bad after all. “

    That creeping despair is further fuelled by what seems typical US imperial-minded overwhelming incompetence Failures in intelligence doesn’t surprise me when it comes to the millitary but with all the media control and with all the lessons learned in Iraq you’d think they would get the names of the operations right. Remember the first George Bush codename (read “brand”) for going into Iraq – Operation Iraqi Liberation – OIL for short? Well, the codename for the coordinated effort to commence “isolating/separating the insurgents from AFG popular support. It also aims to degrade insurgent capability and increase support to GIRoA, ANSF and ISAF among the AFG population” is Operation Tolo. In the Persian “Tolo” means “sunrise” In the US, “Tolo” is the name for a “Spinsters Dance” where the girls invite the boys. Yes, in an Islamic nation which has had neither opportunity nor reason to dance and where women struggle even to go to school, the US has decided to name their operation a “Big Girls Treat”. The fuck ups just go on and on . . .

    This situation is similar, IMHO, to Ireland where a smaller, weaker “pagan” (read papist) force stood for a thousand years opposed. For every Afghanistan that starved to death, or was blown to bits, or shot, or tortured, or put to work as a slave there will be (lets say just only two) others who will quietly take up arms against the occupier.

    And you want New Zealand to take part because:

    . . rather than . . . (it being) . . . a (neo) imperialist intervention, the mission in Afghanistan is a multinational nation-building effort in the wake of state failure. That state failure was brought about by the medieval theocratic Taliban regime, whose record on human rights and support for external terrorism made it arguably the most oppressive regime of the late 20th century.

    No thanks mate. I’ll be staying home because its the US which is the most oppressive regime of the late 20th Century and is itself the failed state.

  9. BliP: I corrected the spelling mistake (from “the” to “there”) since it bothered you, then deleted you apologies comment about double posting etc.

    There is much to be said for your rebuttal, particularly with regards to the mistakes and poor definition and prosecution of the conflict in its early phases. But i simply do not share your view that it is corporate driven at its foundation, nor intended to be perpetual in order to fund those same corporate coffers. Given a capitalist world system it was always going to be the case that profit-driven entities would be contracted into the project (I do not see North Korea or Cuba offering their services as a solidarity gesture). But you appear to underestimate the policy shifts embodied in the Obama administration (which if not as radical as many of his more progressive supporters would like, is certainly not equatable with the Bush/neocon/PNAC approach in virtually any regard). It is precisely these which have hastened the US withdrawal from Iraq and shift in military strategy in Afghanistan away from air power reliant, conventional approaches to a more unconventional special operations approach (which has as its centerpiece the mix of small unit combat operations with humanitarian assistance efforts).

    I also tried to explain that the “game” (and I do not mean to be frivolous with the use of the term) is not only about Afghanistan but about the entire South Central Asian region and beyond. An ISAF defeat would be be a disaster, IMO, in terms of the precedent it sets and the encouragement it gives to some truly regressive forces, forces that wish to subjugate people to their medieval worldview as much as you accuse the US of wanting to subjugate the globe to its capitalist/corporate ambitions.

    As for the comment about the US being the most oppressive state in the world as well as failed state, I see a contradiction there simply because state failure implies not only a failure to control things domestically, but also a failure to project power abroad. So it might be one or the other, but not both. To say nothing of the fact that the claims are ludicrous. The US has failed in many ways, and suffers from some systemic problems that are genuinely serious, but I think you have over-reached with your claim. If we move back just to the mid 1990s we can see that the decline of the US is directly attributable to the W. Bush administration, which made greed and bullying fashionable at all levels of US society. You may not see it, but things have changed, and one area in which the change is manifest is in its approach to foreign military adventures.

  10. pablo,

    I struggle to respond to your posts about Afghanistan, much tho they interest me, because our different ideological starting points are just so different, but I think I managed to wrap my head around it a little today.

    So, for the sake of this post, I’m going to pretend I believe military force could ever be moral, that just wars are possible, and that the current western forces in Afghanistan might be fighting a just war. That set of pretend assumptions skews my brain pretty badly, but there you go :)

    You have said up thread that the SAS deployment to Afghanistan must behave “professionally” and consistently with the law of war, which means not getting involved in the many awful things other western forces (including the US) are involved in (including torturing prisoners) even at arms length (e.g. handing over prisoners to a force which does torture). Is that actually feasible?

    The SAS is not a stand alone force, it will be deployed as part of a wider co-ordinated force including many other powers whose rules are far less “professional” than you would like to see the SAS being. It will be dependant on other forces for logistics, comms, etc. It will provide support to those other forces in turn.

    Could NZ deploy the SAS to Afghanistan and be sure it would behave ethically the whole time? What would be required to provide that certainty?

  11. Anita:

    There is a huge literature with a long history on just war theory, coming from various philosophical and religious viewpoints. The bottom line is the lesser harm/greater evil equation, that is, do you do focused harm to prevent a greater harm or evil from being committed? If the answer is yes, and that is that answer the UN has given to the Afghan conflict, then the objective is to apply organised violence upon those who would commit the greater harm in the most professional way possible. Special operators like the NZSAS are the most professional of all military forces, not just because of their physical training and ability to apply force, but–most importantly–their psychological disposition. They are not gung-ho killers; to the contrary, because the nature of their operations leaves the NZSAS extremely (and I do mean extremely) vulnerable when in the field (small teams operating independently behind enemy lines with small arms, that sort of thing), they are acutely aware of the need for discipline and restraint. Of all military units, they are the least likely to engage in unlawful actions (i.e. violations of the Laws of War and Geneva Convention). And be aware that the Laws of War, which govern the rules of engagement, are very precise on what is not permitted (for example, a wounded adversary who has lost his weapon is considered to be “neutralised” as a threat and cannot be killed. This has led to many western soldiers being killed by wounded Taliban who detonate grenades from under their clothing as they are about to be searched rather than be captured).

    Thus, by disposition and training, the NZSAS will not be committing atrocities, nor, as far as anyone has admitted, have they done so in previous tours in Afghanistan. I am sure that the Key government is now negotiating the rules of engagement (ROE) and chain of command protocols governing the deployment of the NZSAS. That would include assurances that the NZSAS will not be in any chain of command that uses torture or out-sources it. The Obama administration has already ordered the halt to all “enhanced” interrogations, be they conducted by military or civilian personnel. Thus there will undoubtably be in place and “out” clause should the NZSAS field commanders feel that they are being compromised by the actions of allied forces on those grounds. This does not completely ensure against potential crimes being committed in combat during the so-called “fog of war.” But the NZSAS are rigorously trained to ensure that such occurrences are reduced to near-zero, and their track record is clean in this regard.

    From what I can gather than NZSAS will deploy about half of its recon company (65-75 out of +/- 150 men) for long range patrol and sapping duties alongside US and/or Australian and UK special forces in the eastern border provinces. That area is under American command, but the special operators have a degree of independence in their operations since they are not part of large force movements. General Stanley McKrystal, the new ISAF commander, is himself a US special operator and has placed emphasis on that aspect of the anti-Taliban struggle. That includes reducing the dependence on air cover and increasing the use of special operations troops for intelligence gathering purposes while conventional military emphasis reverts to mop-up operations, asset and force protection duty, Afghan security training and reconstruction efforts. This is because of the nature of counter-insurgency: irregular warfare is 1/3 kinetic application (force) and 2/3 non-kinetic humanitarian assistance (Mao has the original line on this with in On Protracted War, which is required reading for specops types). Counter-insurgency is a type of irregular warfare. Thus the operational environment into which the NZSAS is headed is by definition one in which force will be applied discretely and selectively–in fact, their main mission will be tactical intelligence-gathering rather than fighting.

    I despair at the inability of the general public, and John Key for that matter, to see what is at stake in Afghanistan. It is not, as Key says, to prevent terrorism from re-gaining a hold in Afghanistan (although it is possible that a Taliban victory could see the return of al-Qaeda training camps). Instead, it is about preventing a Taliban victory and restoration from destabilizing South Central Asia and allowing safe haven and cross-border raids to be staged by insurgents into Pakistan, which in turn will invite a potential nuclear armed response from India (and if things continue to simmer with the Uighers in its western frontier, China as well). That is the big game being played here, and in that measure NZ has a stake in it.

    Sorry for the long reply.

  12. Pablo

    I note that you scramble for cover under that hideous doctrine: “A Just War”. Lets consider its principles in relation to Afghanistan:

    Just Cause – dubious and subject to considerable dispute as our differences attest

    Comparitive Justice – FAIL

    Legitimate Authority – dubious (cf Colin Powell and other US flunkies in the UN)

    Right Intention – dubious – see Just Cause

    Probability of Success – FAIL

    Last Resort – FAIL

    Proportionality – FAIL

    Further, you seek to dehumanise the enemy (a common enough tactic by an aggressor nation to make it easier to kill other humans) as “15th Century theorcrats” and “medieval”. The concept of Just War stemmed from Cicero but today’s essential tenets were refined by Augustine of Hippo and Thomas Auinas, themselves Christian medieval scholars. The irony is excruciating.

    There will always be religious zealots willing to distort the fundamentals of their religions to justify the practise of the opposite. Muslims, Jews, Christians, Jedi, you name it. I think it was Spock who best summed up what you’re trying to say: “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few”. Well, bollocks to that. Lets just say that “war happens” and leave justifying its righteousness to the war mongers themselves.

    Meanwhile, your faith in Obama is touching. I am aware of Obama’s Executive Order Ensuring Lawful Interrogations signed on 22 January 2009. Yet, how does this compare with the La Times report a week later that Obama has kept intact and, in fact, has bolstered the Bush regime’s “Extraordinary Rendition” programme?

    “Obviously you need to preserve some tools, you still have to go after the bad guys,” said an Obama administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity when discussing the legal reasoning. “The legal advisors working on this looked at rendition. It is controversial in some circles and kicked up a big storm in Europe. But if done within certain parameters, it is an acceptable practice.” . . . One provision of Obama’s orders appears to preserve the CIA’s ability to detain and interrogate terrorism suspects as long as they are not held long-term. The little-noticed provision states that the instructions to close the CIA’s secret prison sites “do not refer to facilities used only to hold people on a short-term, transitory basis.”

    Interesting that the Obama regime has also issued instructions that under no circumstances is reference to be made to the fact that Jordan is still a member of the ISFA.

    Whatever the “Rules of War” (themselves extrapolated from that medieval tract on “Just War”) and what ever slim hope there is in John Key’s ability, I stand by my assertion that to defend New Zealand’s involvement in the Afghanistan situation you must also defend the use of torture.

    As to whether or not the US is the most oppressive State of the 20th Century, how about we ask the people of the world – the people living in China, Greece, Philippines, South Korea, Iran, Guatemala, British Guyana, Vietnam, Cambodia, Congo, Brazil, Dominican Republic, Cuba, Indonesia, Chile, East Timor, Nicaragua, Grenada, Libya, Panama, Iraq, El Salvador, Haiti, Yogoslavia and even Afghanistan. They may disagree with you, as I do.

    Have I over stepped in describing the US as a “failed state”? Don’t think so. You definition differs from mine but how about this compromise: a failed state is one that cannot maintain internal public order without an overseas war?

  13. Pablo

    . . . it is about preventing a Taliban victory and restoration from destabilizing South Central Asia and allowing safe haven and cross-border raids to be staged by insurgents into Pakistan, which in turn will invite a potential nuclear armed response from India (and if things continue to simmer with the Uighers in its western frontier, China as well). That is the big game being played here, and in that measure NZ has a stake in it.

    Yeah yeah yeah. Another game of US Global Dominoes – unless Kiwis spill their blood in Afghanistan we’ll have the Taliban strolling down Courtney Place with rocket launchers and dancing Cossacks following behind.

    Here’s Admiral Michael G. Mullen, Chairman of the US Joint Chief’s of Staff confirming perpetual war for the benefit of corporate greed:

    The three strategic priorities are underpinned by the concept of persistent engagement, which supports allies and partners through programs abroad and at home and which must be led by and conducted hand-in-hand with our interagency partners ( . . . read US corporates . . . )to achieve sustainable results.

    I’ve linked above the corporates feasting in Afghanistan, but aside from the major entities, here’s a list of others that also goes on and on and on . . .

    Language plays such an important part in selling ideas to a naive public. Admiral Mullens prefers “persistent engagement” to “perpetual war”. This year, addressing Congress Hillary Clinton talked about the three D’s of US Foreign Policy: Defence, Diplomacy and Development. Missing from the list, of course, is Democracy. Also missing in action is the acronym AF/PAK for Afghanistan and Pakistan, hinting at a more unified approach to the area with a view to dealing with the nations involved. The buzz-acronym these days is MESCA for Middle East and South Central Asia, an acronym which eliminates national borders from consideration all together.

    You know, the more I think about it the more I wonder if the Taliban actually are not some medieval throwback but, rather, a picture of all our futures. How long will it be before the freedom fighters of Aotearoa are hiding out in the Uruweras conducting our own asymetric warfare against the Chinese capitalist occupiers trying to track us down while our brothers and sisters are working in shoe factories getting paid in bowls of rice.

  14. BLiP, with respect, your attempted fisking of the principles of just war isn’t as sound as you think. It differs from the assessments made by plenty of eminent and well-qualified people who’ve spent their lives studying such matters, developing the theoretical base as a tool to legitimate war in very limited and constrained circumstances. You can deride them most of those arguing for the Afghan war from a ‘just war’ perspective (rather than some of the alternative perspectives) are hawks by no reasonable standard.

    Also, your dismissing it as a ‘hideous doctrine’ hardly lends credence to your understanding of it – arguing against all war ever is as much an abdication of reason as arguing for the unlimited right of states to exercise force in their own self-interest.

    The most legitimate ground for criticism within just war theory is the probability of success. As to the others, the Afghan war is arguably the first since WWII which qualifies as just. That it is being quite poorly prosecuted in some cases isn’t an argument against its just-ness – no war is perfect, and it’s about making the best of what you have. All things considered, to argue against the Afghan war is to support the Taleban and what they stood for as a less-bad alternative, and I simply don’t accept that. Those who equate the Karzai government’s often regressive and sometimes brutal actions with the Taleban are similarly lacking in perspective.

    Another doctrine which is relevant here – and which you might similarly rail against – is the ‘responsibility to protect’ those subject to oppression – rather than the ‘right to intervene’, this holds that where intervention might relieve or mitigate oppression or prevent further violations, and the intervention is justifiable (under just war theory, normally), member states have a responsibility to intervene. This ground grants legitimacy to the initial NATO invasion.

    (Sorry, for the disjointed nature of this comment; I’m in a hurry.)


  15. There was no “initial NATO invasaion”. The current occupation of Afghanistan stems from the unilateral carpet bombing of the nation by the US and the UK in October 2001. The “Legitimate Authority” for the subsequent NATO invasion is dubious, to say the least. In fact, everything since 7 October 2001 has been retrospective justification subject to massive “mission creep” to further, I argue, the interests of capitalist corporate greed. I would suggest that it is you who is ignorant if you are seeking to defend the Afghanistan situation by using the “Just War” doctrine. Unless two wrongs do make a right, up is down, and black is white.

    I can imagine how, to an academic, the mountains of literature and the volumes of apparent logic in relation to “Just War” must seem intimidating. However, the application of Occam’s Razor reduces the fundamental concept to an oxymoron. Rather like “political science”. That Christians, Muslims, and Jews have been as guilty as any other in the endless refinement and proliferation of reasons to kill fellow humans is, indeed, hideous. That political science academics have for centuries put food on their table by coming up with endless permutations doesn’t surprise me. Economists and philosphers do the same sort of thing.

    Nowhere have I argued against the stated aims of the Afghanistan occupation. I just reckon they are corporate PR. And, on my planet, it is perfectly logical to resist the occupation of Afhganistan AND abhor the actions of the Taliban. Nowhere have I defended them and their actions.

    I shall assume that your spontaneous and flimsy defence of the “Just War” doctine is to cover this site in case your posts are read by the Spanish. And fair enuff too, I would hate to see you or any little old lady subject to rendition.

  16. Pablo

    Having got around to reading Findlay McDonald – particularly the last paragraph – I cede that the situation in Afghanistan is not only about capitalist greed. I doubt that the mission will be successful but I would like to see New Zealand in the fight and, as I always did, I wish the Kiwis there all the luck in the world.

    My thanks to Politico.com for affording me the opportunity to have my points of view expressed, challenged and, now, ammended. U da bomb!

  17. BLiP,

    That Findlay McDonald piece just made my head hurt more :) It reminded me that it’s not even clear who we’re fighting for, and that we seem to be operating, at least rhetorically, on the basis that the enemy of our enemy is our friend.

  18. Pablo,

    My brain ache from your comment too :) I’m going to avoid the whole just war conversation for the moment, because the concept doesn’t fit in my moral framework, so it leaves me having to layer hypotheticals about three deep before I can discuss whether this situation meets the criteria.

    I do want to come back to the point about ethical conduct, professionalism, and committing atrocities. Perhaps our definitions are out of alignment or we have different ways of constructing responsibility, but I believe that earlier SAS deployments were involved in unethical warfare. There’s a good chance that information sourced by our soldiers was part of the decision making and targeting for US use of cluster munitions (similarly into US targeting of civilians), and as was well documented today the SAS handed over prisoners for torture.

    I’m not arguing that our soldiers did the torture, fired the cluster bombs or killed the civilians, but they worked within a wider force that did, and they passed on information and prisoners even though they knew what was going on.

    How, even if it were right to fight in Afghanistan, could we ensure that NZ troops were not part of that unethical war machine?

  19. BLiP,

    My point wasn’t the defence of just war theory so much as to point out that it is a legitimate and well-founded doctrine which, with a couple thousand years of practice and half a century worth of modern implementation, is impossible to simply wave away with a top-line quibble over terminology, an argument of the motive fallacy variety, and an objection to some details of implementation in one (admittedly important) case.


  20. Anita, yeah, I just picked up a copy of the SST and reflected on the irony of this SAS discussion.


  21. Anita and Lew:

    The SST article was a jack up. Jon Stephenson is a great reporter but this is not close to being his best work. Let me start with what I have said before: the ROE today are different than those of 2002. So even if the SAS had been involved in something nefarious, the rules today are different.

    But I do not think that it was. The cited law professor is stretching too long a bow when he claims that the SAS committed war crimes (by association). The SAS initially handed over prisoners to its US counterparts without knowing what their treatment would be, and assuming that they would be treated as POWs according to the Geneva Convention. It is slander to claim that the SAS would have known what was going on in American interrogation centres, not in the least because the bulk of the “enhanced interrogations” was being carried out by CIA interrogators who were (by design) outside the military chain of command to which the SAS answered.

    Moreover, claiming that they did not get the prisoners’ names correct and thus were violating the Geneva Convention is laughable. Do you really think that captured Taliban and al Qaeda were going to simply give their names freely? Instead, the SAS took physical descriptions of prisoners before they were remanded to the chain of custody. Then, when word got back to the SAS commander (who I happen to know) that prisoners were being mistreated by the Americans (and more likely this happened at Bagram rather than at Kandahar, as stated in the article, simply because the US and UK bases at Khandahar did not have facilities for detaining large numbers of people), he immediately gathered the other spec ops COs and protested–which stopped the abuse within their theater/area of responsibility.

    So, as the meat of the article goes on to say but which some sub-editor chose to ignore, the SAS actually had a positive impact on its allies on this particular issue. And as I have already said, it will no doubt insist on “clean” ROE in its next rotation. I hold no brief for the SAS should it have participated in real war crimes, but I think that the SST story was placed simply as a counter-point to the fawning series of articles on the NZDF presence in Afghanistan published in the Herald. Thus it was short of facts and long on scandal-mongering.

    Anita: Lew made a good point above about the “duty to protect,” which I omitted from this post but have mentioned before. This is now a UN mandate (as of 2000 I believe), and is designed to protect vulnerable populations from the depredations of states or non-state actors. The ISAF charter includes this clause in its mandate for Afghanistan. Under just war theory (which really should not be that hard to understand because of the lesser harm principles underpinning it), the duty to protect is a legitimate standard for armed intervention in Afghanistan. Issues of flawed execution leading to unnecessary harm, while important and deserving of priority redress, are a separate issue from either the justification of the intervention or the SAS role in it. I wish that the world was a place of black and white, wrong and right, but unfortunately it is not. Thus the need for things like just war theory and the duty to protect.

    Oh, and BLiP–I think that Finlay got it only half right.

  22. Pablo,

    Ok, for the sake of argument let’s say that the SAS didn’t know they were handing over prisoners to torture, but agree that some of the prisoners they handed over were tortured. Is that ok? Should we allow the SAS to be put in the same position? If not, how could we stop it?

    My second example, the use of SAS sourced information by the US when planning and targeting the use of cluster munitions… ?

    NZ will be sending in a small force to be one cog of a much larger force. I would argue, however, that we remain culpable for the actions of other parts of the larger force when they use information/actions of our small cog.

    You’ve said the ROE will be different, and I’m glad, but I’m not clear how that works. How public is the ROE? How can we ensure its stuck to, not just by our soldiers but by their comrades in the larger force?

  23. Anita:

    It is never Ok to torture. It is not necessary for strategic (big picture) intelligence purposes, and although it has been justified by some for tactical intelligence purposes (say, a bomb is about to go off in a crowded market or mall and the detainee is suspected of knowing where the bomb is), it is more often than not ineffectual (committed warriors will lie rather than compromise their cause or their mates). The SAS know this because their training involves all SAS personnel being subjected to what is, by all definitions, torture. The same happens with most if not all spec ops troops. Because they have endured it, they know that torture can be beaten. Hence they know that it does not work on committed warriors (which is who they will face). Only the weak or uncommitted can be “turned” by torture. The Taliban are neither.

    The SAS will not be put into the position of having allies they work with engaging in illegal acts. That is why the negotiations of the ROE are so important. From their comments, I have little faith that John Key and Wayne Mapp are capable of striking a hard bargain with the US, Australian and/or UK on the terms of the SAS ROE (I am not sure at this point who the SAS will work with but it looks like the US, in partnership with Ozzies). They are way out of their depth on that score. But the NZDF has a capable leadership cadre that includes ex-SAS officers, so I think they will strike a hard bargain regardless of the naivete of the civilians that they answer to.

    As for cluster munitions, be aware that their use is permitted against military targets. They are anti-personnel munitions, which means that they work best on infantry troops in open terrain (since broken terrain provides adversary cover and mitigates the kinetic impact of the munition). What the SAS will be doing in Afghanistan will most likely not involve open terrain or large Taliban concentrations, but if it does it is well within the Laws of War to call in air strikes using cluster bombs. I am not saying that I endorse their use or believe it is moral to use them. I simply believe that combat is a nasty business by definition and that the application of lethal force is ugly in any guise, so long as it is governed by–yet again–the ROE.

    That is why the debate between people like you and I needs to happen on two levels on a public scale: 1) about the reasons why the SAS should be sent to Afghanistan; and 2) the ROE governing their deployment. If the NZ public and its elected representatives decide not send troops and withdrawn the Bamiyan PRT after considered debate, I will accept the decision even if I disagree with it. But first we need that debate to happen. Newspaper opinion polls are not enough.

    postscript: I just read the article on line about Keith Locke wanting to investigate the SST allegations. I admire Keith but disagree with him on this one (at least in terms of his opposition to the SAS deployment). The fact is, as the article states, that the NZDF have “tightened” the ROE as a result of their experiences during those early post-9/11 deployments. With the US and NZ tightening the protocols governing the treatment of irregular combatants, the NZSAS should not find itself in a moral quandry this time around.

  24. Pablo,

    You’ve obviated the need for me to write a post about what the war crimes allegations mean for the NZ Afghanistan deployment, thank you. My impression having read the SST articles was that any abuses which had occurred needed to be investigated and dealt with as a strong statement (internally) of compliance with the Laws of War and for the sake of our international reputation; that it should be made clear that the ROE changes stand and that NZ officers have standing to challenge allied commanders who appear to be in breach; and that the whole issue didn’t really change the overall calculus behind whether to recommit. As I tried to communicate in my comment on Friday night, better that NZ troops are there and are able to positively influence the conduct of their allies than not, all other concerns aside.

    Anita, I think some of your questions regarding the operational role of the SAS are covered in today’s Sunday Group (audio) discussion, in which the NZDF’s Tim Brewer makes crystal clear that the SAS fundamentally answer to nobody other than their own chain of command.


  25. I thought I should loop back, briefly, to the just war conversation. I come to the discussion from a faith based position of pacifism, and I believe that military intervention will always be the greater evil. While the immediate effects may look like the lesser harm, the simple act of using military force condones, endorses and propagates military force – we will never reach peace by a road that takes us through military action.

    I can construct hypothetical situations in which, if I had the power, I would probably use military force because I could not bear to allow the immediate suffering to continue, but I would also believe in my heart that my decision would be wrong and that I would have made the world a worse place through my cowardice.

    Sometime I should write a post or two about my pacifism, but I find it really hard as my faith is non-credal and largely comes out of personal experience of god. So I can’t rely of biblical (or other textual) quotes, and my truest argument is “it is how it is, I know it to be true”.

  26. Sure one cannot quote the bible to quote God, but the whole idea of a nation being given a territory by the maker of the Earth was premised on the idea that people, wherever they lived, had an unalienable right to peace, security and sovereignty.

    Little nations with little power had to appeal to a higher power, such as God, to cry for justice on the Earth. And ask those greater powers on Earth to consider the justice of their plea and let them be.

    (So its some turnaround that this nation now has this proud boast to be self-reliant in their capability to defend themselves – despite being a nation formed by UN mandate and the UN officially believes in the justice of peace, security and sovereignty for all peoples and nations – and is committed to COLLECTIVE security on this basis).

  27. Pablo’s comments about the need for wider, deeper and more public debate on such matters were echoed by the eminent heads on Laidlaw’s panel discussion, to which I linked above.

    This, to me, contrasts with the Black Helicopter ravings about the capitalist-military-industrial-governmental-imperialst complex running Afghanistan as a revenue-generating exercise. There have historically been valid arguments on these fronts, but they have likewise always been limited in actuality and their import has, in my view, been greatly exaggerated. The implication that they are shared by the wider strategic and international affairs community has always been ludicrous; many academics, senior (former) diplomats and policy leaders have consistently called for greater civilian oversight (and at least awareness!) of the roles of militaries, their mandates and capabilities and actions. Not to say that there is enough; but the calls for secrecy are not coming from all the quarters people think.


  28. SPC, I can’t really figure out what you’re driving at, but perhaps this will make clear: which nation formed by UN mandate?


  29. SPC, right, I figured as much, but what I couldn’t get a handle on was when Israel became germane to the discussion. I suppose it was Anita’s mention of god.


  30. It’s actually related to the issue of morality in foreign policy etc and standing by certain values regardless of the “realpolitic/situation ethics of the participants”.

    But all media is actively involved in trying to shape an issue to some degree.

  31. Lew:

    Thanks for the audio link. Chris should have used our comment threads on the subject as talking points. Tim Brewer was fine and gave some good insights into the situation on the ground, but the usual suspects from the Centre for Strategic Studies (Lance Beath being the military conservative, Terrence O’Brien being the pacifist) just staked out their usual positions. Maybe I am getting a bit reactionary but I found Terrence to be particularly obdurate or ignorant of how things actually work in-theater (I mean, was he really serious when he wondered if Afghans appreciated NZ’s non-nuclear policy? Does he really believe that the 8 year PRT commitment to date is too much?). Lance is pro-military so as far as he is concerned they can do no wrong.

    Even so, it was good to hear them call for greater public debate on the issue, and at least they all agreed that the mission is not a cloak for corporate exploitation.

  32. pablo,

    What is the process for the ROE? Who drafts it? Will they have started? Who is the decision maker? Who gets to see it before the decision is made?

    Huh? huh? :)

  33. Anita,

    The ROE will be negotiated between NZDF/NoD and NATO partners. That was an interesting aspect of Brigadier (ret) Tim Brewer’s comments on Insight, because he has just returned from a 6 week fact finding mission in Afghanistan on behalf of the MoD/NZDF and asserted categorically that the SAS would be under the NATO special operations command rather than US command (there are special operations troops from over a dozen countries currently deployed in Afghanistan). So the ROE is likely being drafted in Brussels and Wellington, although I am sure that people in OSD-ISA (the Pentagon office where I used to work) and the US Special Operation Command at McDill AFB outside of Tampa will get to look at it and offer their input (since the US will likely be providing much of the logistical support for the mission). I would assume, given their close working relationship, that the NZSAS will be based and work with their Australian and UK counterparts as the bulk of that mission.

  34. Pablo,

    I’ll try to get something in the mail to the NZDF tomorrow.

    Now you’ve got me reading about our involvement in Afghanistan (and it’s not making me happier) I was reading David Beatson’s most recent piece. One of his points is that NZ has not managed to negotiate an agreement with Afghanistan that any prisoners handed over to them

    will be treated in accordance with international human rights and humanitarian laws and will not be subject to the death penalty

    How can that possibly sit alongside the idea that our involvement would be ethical and consist with humanitarian principles?

  35. Anita,

    I do not find that Mr. Beatson’s post adds much to the debate, as it just mostly repeats the SST article. However, his observation about the lack of about human rights guarantees in any NZ-Afghan government agreement on the transfer of prisoners is a good addition to the debate, and is sure to be part of the current negotiations regarding the SAS deployment and can be extended to the PRT as well. If it is not, it should be. I just wish that people would realise that the ROE of 2002-2005 no longer apply, nor is the current ISAF strategy for Afghanistan the one that obtained during the W. Bush administration. Thus NZ can now place conditions on its involvement that Labour may have felt it could not during the previous iteration. All that is required is the political will to do so, and to be honest, the Karzai regime is in no real position to argue otherwise given the upcoming elections and international pressure for him to halt human rights violations by (his) Afghan national security forces. Which, of course, makes Labour’s current opposition to the SAS redeployment all the more hypocritical.

  36. Pablo,

    This thread is leading the news, well at least is ahead of the news :)

    Today’s news is that the existing deployment in Bamiyan was involved in the capture of a Taliban leader. So we’re currently involved in capturing people for possible torture and execution by the Afghan administration.

    If that’s the current practice, is there any hope that the next deployment will exist within better rules? I want you to say “yes”, and I want to imagine that the whatever you say would need to be done will be done, but… existing practice is not giving me a lot of optimism.

  37. Anita:

    Bamiyan is part of a conflict zone and the NZ PRT are in fact charged with providing security support in their AOR. Afghan security forces made the capture of someone who led attacks on ISAF and local targets (including NZ personnel). The NZDF role was to provide an outer cordon for the operation and provide communications linkage to combat air patrol. They were not involved in the capture per se (the news item title is once again misleading) but merely provided support to what was, in essence, an Afghan on Afghan affair.

    Ergo, some would say this was a good example of Afghan-ISAF security cooperation in removing a real threat to the Bamiyan (since the Taleban target schools and medical facilities as a priority), which in turn is a sign that the Afghans are starting to take a more central role in their own security affairs (at least in Bamiyan). That is exactly what the UN mandated ISAF to do–provide conditions for the Afghans to regain control of their own destinies.

    I would hope that the NZDF presence would discourage the ill-treatment of prisoners. If not, it should be a priority interest of the NZ government during the current round of discussions about the NZDF role in that country.

  38. I support the concept of UN sanctioned “collective security” policing of terrorist groups.

    I am also somewhat of an internationalist in supporting democracy emerging in nation states.

    So I fit the profile of someone who one would expect to support operations such as in Afghanistan – which is a bit of both (though I did not support regime change in Iraq).

    I do have reservations though.

    1. It’s about time we told the Americans to deliver on the APEC free trade by 2020, or expect our foreign policy to change, simply because we will not be able to afford to contribute otherwise.

    2. As our international reputation is at stake we need to retain some independence so we can reduce the risk of becoming involved in messy operations.

    We were clearly only involved in humanitarian work in Iraq, but here we do this and also provide some area security military input and an active contribution to the military aggression.

    We are, as others have noted, vulnerable in our association with the domestic regimes practice and that of our military allies.

    Because of the Iraq misadventure there was a lack of resources placed into this theatre and thus the local people lost confidence in the regime change. That and the example of the Iraqi terror campaign has emboldened the Taleban “revival”. Thus for the right reasons we are involved, but because of the poor leadership of the Americans we now share in the burden of what has become the Afghanistan “nightmare”.

    There has to be a risk management assessment premised around

    1. preserving our international reputation
    2. maintining a contribution to valid common cause (where it is one that is seen as on balance worthwhile and better than the alternative).
    3. identfying at what point it would be better to pull out.
    4. remembering Vietnam and the flawed domino theory, would it be preferable to secure Pakistan and contain the Taleban in Aghanistan?

  39. Well, our troops in Afghanistan are in the news again today and for the wrong reasons: photographed childishly putting “Demon” stickers on bombs supposedly about to be launched at the Taliban but more likely landing on some everyday Joe Citizen and his family whose daily struggle for existence is likely to be prematurely ended.

    While our PM, unlike the army, blithely fobbed this off, it suggests that their dedication to our so-called “hearts and minds” campaign is only skin deep – a soldier’s primary purpose is, after all, to kill.

    It also gives us cause to ponder anew about the wisdom of committing our troops to this particular venture.

    with respect, I do not prescribe to Pablo’s modern day Domino Theory. And I think any dream of instituting a moderate Islamic republic, whatever that would be, is Boy’s Own fantasy land.

    The following is an extract from http://www.thenation.com/blogs/dreyfuss/467353

    (quote) Here’s the reality: First, if we leave Afghanistan, the Taliban may or may not take over. Most of the Afghan population hates the Taliban, and the non-Pashtun minorities won’t roll over and accept a Taliban victory even if we aren’t there to fight alongside them. Second, even if the Taliban do take over, or set up a statelet in the south (consolidating areas already under their control), they may or may not invite Al Qaeda to join them. Al Qaeda already has a base, in Pakistan, and so far they’ve been unable to use that base to attack much of anything outside the war zone. Besides, the Taliban isn’t the same thing as Al Qaeda, and they may find it politic not to re-ally with Osama bin Laden’s terrorist band. And third, Taliban-style Islam and Al Qaeda-style terrorism is fast losing support among Muslims from Morocco to Indonesia, and there’s zero evidence that the re-establishment of a Taliban state in Afghanistan would do much, if anything, to excite Muslims. In fact, it’s easier to make the argument that radical Muslim extremists are energized by the US presence in Afghanistan and the concomitant jihad, and that a US withdrawal from Afghanistan would calm passions, not inflame them.(end quote)

    I watched an interview with Imran Khan on Democracy Now! where he ridiculed the very scenario Pablo posits above. In my humble opinion, that scenario falls into the same category as the completely imaginary threat Saddam Hussein was made out to be by Bush, Blair and Howard.

    I also suggest taking a look at http://www.gwynnedyer.com/articles/Gwynne%20Dyer%20article_%20%20Election%20in%20Afghanistan.txt

    Dyer’s analysis has proved very reliable over the years.

    Finally, I often find myself paraphrasing one of the great philosophers of the twentieth century: “I ain’t got no quarrel with those Afghans…” :-)

  40. Thanks Luc.

    I appreciate the need for a vigorous debate on this issue, and even while I disagree with your conclusions, you quoted/linked material is good food for thought. I am not above reconsidering my position but in this instance I am waiting to see the fall-out from the elections (not a good look) and the revamped ISAF strategy (which appears to be slowly accomplishing the first level game). As for silly soldiers and their silly games–the weirdness of the security contractors at the US embassy is much more worrisome.

    BTW, I was wondering when someone would pull out that tired domino theory canard. I prefer “ripple effect.”

  41. I see the army has announced today that the three soldiers are being recalled. The army obviously, and quite rightly, sees it as more serious than just some “silly soldiers.”

    And who knows, perhaps this is the bomb our silly soldiers decorated: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/05/world/asia/05afghan.html?_r=1 that indiscriminately killed 80 human beings, maily civilians.

    Naturally, a war cannot be condemned on its atrocities alone, but the opaqueness of the goal of the military action in Afghanistan leads to a lack of focus on the grounds and the horrific civilian casualties inflicted on the locals.

    The original goals were clear: kill Bin Laden and as many of his cronies as possible and destroy their havens in Afghanistan. Basically, this was largely accomplished except for the death of one man. Al Qaeda was driven into relative obscurity in the tribal regions of Pakistan, so we just had to keep Pakistan financed and motivated to go hound them and continue to reduce their capacity for terrorist acts and the mission was over.

    But no, we had to go and poke our noses into a civil war. Ouch.

    Really, it’s a continuation of our colonialist, imperialist superiority complex – racism, to put it bluntly – and we simply don’t learn from the past.

    I’m happy to butt out of this now as I have said my piece and thank you very much for the opportunity to do so.

    Just one last thing – re the domino/ripple effect canard: as I hear Americans say often, if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck…

    Cheers :-)

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